China’s National Health Commission (NHC) stopped publishing daily COVID-19 data on Sunday, amid doubts about their reliability as infections have exploded in the wake of an abrupt easing of tough restrictions, Reuters reported.
“Relevant COVID information will be published by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention for reference and research,” the commission said in a statement, without specifying the reasons for the change or how frequently China CDC will update COVID information.
The NHC’s halt to reporting daily infection and death totals comes as concerns grow around the lack of vital information since Beijing made sweeping changes to a zero-COVID policy that had put hundreds of millions of its citizens under relentless lockdowns and battered the world’s second-largest economy, read the report.
Despite the record surge of infections, the NHC had reported no COVID deaths nationwide for four consecutive days before halting the data release. China narrowed its definition for reporting COVID deaths, counting only those from COVID-caused pneumonia or respiratory failure, raising eyebrows among world health experts.
British-based health data firm Airfinity last week estimated China was experiencing more than a million infections and 5,000 deaths a day.
After COVID cases were breaking daily records in late November, the NHC this month stopped reporting asymptomatic infections, making it harder to track cases.
Official figures from China had become an unreliable guide as less testing was being done across the country, while China has been routinely accused of downplaying infections and deaths.
According to Reuters the United States has also reported COVID cases less frequently, changing from daily to weekly updates, citing needs to reduce the reporting burden on local areas.
The World Health Organization has received no data from China on new COVID hospitalisations since Beijing eased its restrictions. The organisation says the data gap might be due to the authorities struggling to tally cases in the world’s most populous country.
Several models and reports in recent days have forecast as many as two million COVID deaths as the virus spreads to rural sections of the country, threatening to hit the most vulnerable elderly population and the unvaccinated.
The country’s healthcare system has been under enormous strain, with staff being asked to work while sick and even retired medical workers in rural communities being rehired to help grass-root efforts, according to state media.
Bolstering the urgency is the approach of the Lunar New Year in January, when huge numbers of people return home.
WHO declares end to COVID global health emergency
The World Health Organization said Friday that COVID-19 no longer qualifies as a global emergency, marking a symbolic end to the devastating coronavirus pandemic that triggered once-unthinkable lockdowns, upended economies and killed millions of people worldwide.
The announcement, made more than three years after WHO declared the coronavirus an international crisis, offers some relief, if not an ending, to a pandemic that stirred fear and suspicion, hand-wringing and finger-pointing across the globe, AP reported.
The U.N. health agency’s officials said that even though the emergency phase was over, the pandemic hasn’t finished, noting recent spikes in cases in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
WHO says thousands of people are still dying from the virus every week, and millions of others are suffering from debilitating, long-term effects.
“It’s with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“That does not mean COVID-19 is over as a global health threat,” he said, warning that new variants could yet emerge. Tedros noted that while the official COVID-19 death toll was 7 million, the real figure was estimated to be at least 20 million.
Tedros said the pandemic had been on a downward trend for more than a year, acknowledging that most countries have already returned to life before COVID-19.
He bemoaned the damage that COVID-19 had done to the global community, saying the pandemic had shattered businesses, exacerbated political divisions, led to the spread of misinformation and plunged millions into poverty.
When the U.N. health agency first declared the coronavirus to be an international crisis on Jan. 30, 2020, it hadn’t yet been named COVID-19 and there were no major outbreaks beyond China.
More than three years later, the virus has caused an estimated 764 million cases globally and about 5 billion people have received at least one dose of vaccine.
In the U.S., the public health emergency declaration made regarding COVID-19 is set to expire on May 11, when wide-ranging measures to support the pandemic response, including vaccine mandates, will end. Many other countries, including Germany, France and Britain, dropped most of their provisions against the pandemic last year.
When Tedros declared COVID-19 to be an emergency in 2020, he said his greatest fear was the virus’ potential to spread in countries with weak health systems.
Most recently, WHO has struggled to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, a challenging scientific endeavor that has also become politically fraught.
COVID-19 in Iran: Nearly 900 new cases, 24 deaths recorded
The Iranian health ministry announced on Sunday that more than 890 new cases of COVID-19 have been identified across the country during the past 24 hours, adding that 24 patients have died in the same period of time, Fars News Agency reported.
“A sum of 891 new patients infected with COVID-19 have been identified in the country based on confirmed diagnosis criteria during the past 24 hours,” the Iranian Health Ministry’s Public Relations Center said on Sunday, adding, “454 patients have been hospitalized during the same time span.”
The ministry’s public relations center said 611 people infected with COVID-19 are in critical condition.
China says 200 million treated, pandemic ‘decisively’ beaten
China says more than 200 million of its citizens have been diagnosed and treated for COVID-19 since it lifted strict containment measures beginning in November.
With 800,000 of the most critically ill patients having recovered, China has “decisively beaten” the pandemic, according to notes from a meeting of the ruling Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee presided over by President and party leader Xi Jinping, AP reported.
China enforced some of the world’s most draconian lockdowns, quarantines and travel restrictions and still faces questions about the origins of the virus that was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. Heavy-handed enforcement prompted rare anti-government protests and took a heavy toll on the world’s second-largest economy.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Xi as saying that policies to control the outbreak had been “entirely correct.” The abrupt lifting in November and December of the “zero COVID” policy that had sought to eliminate all cases of the virus led to a surge in infections that temporarily overwhelmed hospitals.
Case numbers have since peaked and life has largely returned to normal, although international travel in and out of China has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.
China is now transitioning to a post-pandemic stage after a fight against the outbreak that was “extraordinary in the extreme,” Xinhua said.
The government will continue to “optimize and adjust prevention and control policies and measures according to the times and situations with a strong historical responsibility and strong strategic determination,” Xinhua said.
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